Brown v. Board of Education

Key Facts– Several state laws segregating their schools were subjected to legal challenges on the grounds that they were not “equal” and could not be made equal.

Issue– Does segregation violate Equal Protection when present in public schools?

Holding– Yes

Result– Segregation in schools ruled unconstitutional

Reasoning– The Fourteenth Amendment Was intended by its strongest proponents to eliminate all legal distinctions between American citizens. Public education was not especially prevalent at that time, particularly in the South, which makes it hard to say how the Amendment was intended to apply to schools. However, the Court considers it important here to examine whether segregation, even if facilities were to be equal, would lead to unequal educational opportunities.Here, they conclude that it does.

Moore v. City of East Cleveland, Ohio (1977)

Key Facts– An ordinance in East Cleveland limited occupancy of a dwelling unit to members of a single family, with “family” specifically defined. Moore appeals her conviction for permitting her grandchildren to live with her.

Issue– Does the ordinance violate Due Process?

Holding– Yes.

Result– Law overturned.

Reasoning– Cities cannot intrude so extensively into family life without a major interest involved. Here, whether it’s deliberate or not, a major impact of the statute is to dictate familial structures, which is unconstitutional.

Reitman v Mulkey (1967)

Key Facts– California passed Proposition 14 in 1964, permitting people to refuse to lease, sell, or rent property to anyone for whatever reasons they choose. Reitman refused to rent a property to the Mulkeys, apparently based on their race.

Issue– Can a California law permit racial discrimination in private affairs such as renting property?

Holding– No

Result– Ruling by California court, preventing this discrimination,is affirmed.

Reasoning– Proposition 14 is a state permitting legal discrimination, even if the rule does not say so overtly. It also seems this was the lawmakers’ intent; this makes the law directly contradictory of the Fourteenth Amendment.

Shelley v. Kraemer (1948)

Key Facts– In 1911, the majority of property owners in a certain area of St. Louis made a signed agreement to exclude non-Caucasian people from their area. Now they seek to to enforce that agreement in court, to prevent non-Whites from taking possession of one of those properties.

Issue– Can state courts enforce an agreement predicated on racial discrimination in property ownership?

Holding– No

Result– Contract nullified

Reasoning– The right to acquire, enjoy, own, and dispose of property is one of those protected by the Fourteenth Amendment. Thus, a state court cannot be used to violate that right on the basis of race.

The Civil Rights Cases: United States v. Stanley (1883)

Key Facts– The 1875 Civil Rights Act prohibited businesses from discriminating against people based on race, which was intended to fit under authority granted by the Fourteenth Amendment.

Issue– Does the Fourteenth Amendment permit the federal government to prohibit private discrimination?

Holding– No

Results– Lawsuits dismissed

Reasoning– The Fourteenth Amendment is about prohibition of a certain type of state action, not individual action. The federal government can prohibit states from discriminating, but only states can constrain private discrimination.

Saenz v. Roe (1999)

Key Facts– California enacted a statute limiting the maximum welfare that new residents of the state will be eligible for to the amount payable in that resident’s previous state of residence.

Issue– Does the Privileges and Immunities Clause of the 14th Amendment prohibit discrimination against new citizens of states?

Holding– Yes

Result– Law stricken

Reasoning– As stated in the Slaughterhouse cases, one of the Privileges conferred in the Privileges and Immunities Clause is the right, through residency, to become a citizen of a new state and thereafter enjoy the same rights as other citizens of that state.

National Federation of Independent Business v. Sebelius

affordable care act

Key Facts—The Affordable Care Act passed, establishing an individual mandate that required private individuals to purchase health insurance. The Affordable Care Act also created a Medicaid expansion, with strings attached. The National Federation of Independent Business sued on the constitutionality of these provisions.

Issue—Did Congress have the power to enact the disputed provisions of the Affordable Care Act?

Holding—Yes regarding the individual mandate, no regarding the strings attached to Medicaid.

Result—Law partially affirmed, partially overturned.

Reasoning—The individual mandate is enforced with a penalty. The Court does not recognize the power of Congress to create this new penalty under the Commerce Clause, but says that they can interpret the penalty as a tax, and that would make it constitutional. The Medicaid expansion, on the other hand, has strings attached to it that would prevent states from receiving Medicaid funding if they do not perform specific actions mandated by Congress. This is effectively coercion, and it threatens the states, taking away their options; the Court rules that the states must have a genuine choice about accepting congressional funding and adopting new programs.

Gonzales v. Raich

medical marijuana

Key Facts—California authorized the use of medical marijuana, in violation of Congress’s Controlled Substances Act. Nevertheless, the Drug Enforcement Agency (DEA) enforced the Controlled Substances Act in California, and raided the homes of multiple people, finding and destroying marijuana when it located it. One of the people whose marijuana was destroyed was Raich, whose marijuana use was intended to treat conditions that would otherwise be excruciatingly painful and perhaps fatal. Thus, Raich brought action against the DEA and Attorney General for violating his rights.

Issue—Does the Controlled Substances Act overrule contrary California law? If so, is the Controlled Substances Act constitutional?

Holding—Yes and yes.

Result—Judgment against the government is vacated.

Reasoning—Well-settled law on drugs settles that Congress has the power to regulate them. The Court invokes Wickard here, and says that it controls, and that Raich’s lawyers, who tried to use Lopez and Morrison as precedents here, have interpreted those cases too broadly. Though the Supreme Court has strong reservations about enforcing this law, it is within Congress’s authority to pass it.

medical marijuana rules

New York v. United States (1992)

Key Facts—Congress had passed the Low-Level Radiation Waste Policy Amendments Act of 1985, altering regulation of radioactive waste. This would compel the states to dispose of radioactive waste a specific way.


Issue—Can Congress compel the states to dispose of radioactive waste in the way that Congress would prefer them to?


Result—Law partially stricken.

Reasoning—Congress has great power to coax the states into doing its bidding, but it cannot compel the states to dispose of radioactive waste in some specific way. Instead, it could, for example, force the private generators and disposers of waste to do what they want. However, Congress cannot use the states as tools to achieve their ends.

So, where do we put this?
So, where do we put this?

Printz v. United States

Key Facts—The Brady Handgun Violence Prevention Act commanded state and local law enforcement officers to conduct background checks on prospective handgun purchasers and perform some related tasks.

Issue—Can Congress compel state and local law enforcement to perform specific tasks pursuant to federal regulations?


Result—Law partially stricken.

Reasoning—Historically, when Congress needed state assistance in enforcing a federal law, it never attempted to mandate compliance; instead, it requested support. If the states did not comply, Congress worked around the resultant logistical issues. Using the states as instruments of Congress is forbidden, because they have their own sovereignty. The Brady Act would transfer the Executive responsibility for execution of the laws to local authorities, and it is therefore unacceptable.